The chatbot market is now a $17.17 billion industry.
And that number will hit $102 billion by 2025, ~5 years from now.
It’s a large market. And Drift is taking a huge share of it.
With over 50,000 customers in five years, Drift has become one of the prominent leaders in the chatbot space — although they now have other products besides their chatbot.
“How are they doing this?” is probably the question you’re thinking right now.
But if you’ve been anywhere in B2B these past few years, you’ll know they’re winning by building a solid brand.
Table of Contents
- What’s a “solid brand”?
- Customers pay attention to ‘reasonable differences’
- “Doing things that don’t scale” for effective SaaS marketing
- Doing things that don’t scale helps you scale, eventually
- The challenge with building growth like Drift
- In conclusion: Focus on the customer, building your brand one person at a time
What’s a “solid brand”?
By definition, a solid brand is one with a unique identity. Period. It’s the brand you can quickly point out in a line-up of other similar businesses.
If you’ve ever taken a branding class, the answer to what is a brand goes something like this:
“A brand is a product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed.”
In essence, a solid brand is one with a unique identity.
It’s one thing Drift has.
And when you have a brand like that, you’ll be hard to compete with, because you’re operating on a different plane than others.
You’ll always own your own space — with new customers choosing your business for one main reason: street cred (your credibility in the market).
Of course, they’ll eventually judge you based on your product and its benefits once they become customers, but that’s after they’ve at least signed up for a trial.
So at first, they will probably choose you because of your brand, your street cred.
It’s the play you’re seeing with Drift; they’re establishing a unique street cred by simply not looking like every other chatbot company.
Their central strategy: to NOT identify as a chatbot product, but as a conversational marketing tool.
Or “The New Way Businesses Buy From Businesses.”
You might know them more for conversational marketing, but you get the idea: they’re not blending in with the same narrative their competitors have been pushing.
Instead, they’re stirring discussions around a different and more important topic.
They’re arguing that consumers prefer conversations to things like filling out forms or waiting for queues on phone calls — and that is why they’re using chatbots more.
Does this mean every single customer prefer chatbots to forms? Nope. But there are many customers who do and that’s the market Drift is targeting.
It’s a different narrative that Drift is pushing, and they’re winning at it — because customers pay attention to reasonable differences.
Customers pay attention to ‘reasonable differences’
I’m not sure I’ve heard the term “reasonable differences” anywhere else before.
But since it drives home my point, I might as well use it.
The meaning is obvious: a difference that is reasonable.
Or one that causes customers to pause and think because it looks different and it makes sense. So it’s not just any type of difference.
It’s a thought-provoking difference that positions a brand in a class of its own.
The Reasonable difference approach has been working for Drift.
Everyone knows they’re essentially selling a chatbot product, but they’re not calling it that — since that’s what everyone else is calling it.
Instead, they’re calling it a conversational marketing product.
It’s a reasonable difference from the norm. And people are paying attention to it.
On review sites like TrustRadius or G2, you’ll find customers calling Drift “a conversational marketing chatbot.”
And on Twitter, #conversationalmarketing was a trend for a period of time:
It’s like a taking-the-bull-by-the-horns strategy.
As an outside observer, it looks like Drift is taking their industry by the hand and leading it where they want by driving conversations around a central concept.
Slowly but surely, the term started picking up steam and Drift is enjoying all the fame and revenue that’s following it.
Now the next section of this article may sound a bit counterproductive, but Drift’s entire SaaS marketing is centred on “doing things that don’t scale” — or things you can’t measure.
“Doing things that don’t scale” for effective SaaS marketing
“So we’re building community; we’re building relationships,” David answered.
“We call it ‘do the things that don’t scale.’
“We have a book, it’s free. You can go on our website and we’ll send you a physical book; it’s called This won’t scale. And it’s like 52 tactical marketing plays that we ran ourselves.”
So they grew (and still growing) by doing the things that don’t scale – or things that don’t directly impact sales but build relationships and brand.
And by the way, the book David mentioned… several people took to Twitter sharing how awesome the book was.
There wasn’t any direct selling, but every Tweet kept mentioning the book came from Drift.
Talk about a boatload of amazing PR:
It’s a free book but so valuable Daniel J. Murphy from Privy wanted to pay for it and to start using Drift — solely because of the content of the book:
This way, Drift started building their community one person at a time.
“We started sending different gifts and things to people around the world and started to build this community one at a time,” David shared.
“We would send books to them; we had a podcast that was really about learning and books called Seeking Wisdom. And anyone who was interested in the book we were reading, we’d just mail them the book.”
But besides the books, Drift builds brand through several other types of content — because it builds relationships.
They make most of their content ungated so everyone qualifies for it without having to give their emails or contact information as an exchange.
David also mentioned that when they try (and they do) to do things that scale — like gating content, for instance, — performance flies out the window.
In other words, when they do things that focus on engaging the customer in an unobstructed way, they scale.
So doing things that don’t help them scale ends up helping them scale fast.
Let me explain a bit further.
Doing things that don’t scale helps you scale, eventually
Doing things that don’t scale, for Drift, means sacrificing performance for customer experience.
They do lots of marketing activities that aren’t measurable, knowing that as long as those activities solve critical problems for the customer, Drift becomes top-of-mind for them.
But when they try to actually do things that scale, they end up sacrificing quality or performance — because those things often kill customer experience.
“Every time we regress, which we do,” says David, “and try to go to the easy-to-scale, easy-to-measure kinds of things, the performance goes away… because everyone else [is] doing the same thing.”
Conversely, when they focus on doing things that build great experiences for their target buyers like ungating their premium content or building a content hub that educates potential customers without aggressively trying to sell to them, they end up scaling Drift.
More importantly, they gain more brand recognition — street cred — way more than many of their competitors.
As I’ve illustrated above, doing things that impact the hearts and lives of customers positively in significant ways doesn’t improve growth metrics immediately.
But they solidify relationships with customers and build brand – all of which ends up improving your growth metrics.
When I spoke with Drift’s VP of content Mark Kilens, he shared that they focus on using a mix of content and events to create amazing experiences for their target customers.
- Ask themselves, “What do customers have to understand before they buy Drift?”
- Ask these questions across all buying stages and keep creating content to answer them
- Become a part of the buyer’s journey, easing them into making a decision with various types of content.
Now let’s get a bit more tactical…
(Author’s note: I share content marketing ideas like this with smart B2B marketers on my newsletter; see what it’s all about.)
Here are a few examples of ‘things that don’t scale’ that Drift does to scale:
1. Driving product trials through downloadable ebooks
Drift doesn’t try to finagle emails from their audience when they have premium content like swipe files or ebooks.
Instead, they offer those resources ungated.
But once you click to read the ebook (or some other resource), their chatbot pops up asking if you’d prefer a downloadable version of it:
If you say yes, they reply to you with a downloadable version of the book — still without asking for your email in exchange.
But instead of asking for your email, they do something smarter:
After sending you the link for the downloadable PDF, they ask if you’d like to learn more about using Drift on your site:
And if you’ve signed up for content on their site before, they make the ask even more personalized, calling out your company URL:
So while they’re not gating their content, they still try to generate demand, asking readers to try Drift.
It’s a smart strategy that puts customer experience first while asking (not coercing) them to sign up for Drift if they’re interested.
(Author’s note: I share content marketing ideas like this with smart B2B marketers on my newsletter; see what it’s all about.)
2. Twenty+ expert-written how-to blog posts per month
That’s about five per week.
Then they “softly sell” their major product features in these blog posts — where they’re relevant, so they’re not coming across as salesy.
Here’s one of their blog posts, for example, where they’re (contextually) referencing their video feature.
They do this in roughly 10 posts every month – so it’s a smart demand generation strategy.
Then Drift puts a CTA at the end of each content piece to drive sign-ups for an ebook or some other premium content piece relevant to the topic they’re addressing.
These marketing tactics end up building an audience of marketers and salespeople for Drift, and customer numbers grow organically.
3. Drift Insider
This is where you’ll find Drift’s videos and podcasts.
They share everything about marketing and sales here, and they’re focused on using the content to build a community of marketers and salespeople.
This also builds their brand and earns them of love:
All this content sharing doesn’t sell Drift, not directly at least.
But it makes them a force to be reckoned with in B2B, marketing, and sales.
In the end, the ROI from being a thought leader is way more than running some paid ads for your product to directly sell them.
That’s usually a race to the bottom; you’ll have to keep increasing your ad spend as competitors raise theirs.
But of course, doing SaaS marketing the Drift way (AKA doing things that don’t scale) comes with its challenges too.
The challenge with building growth like Drift
Here are four challenges you might face if you’re going the Drift way to build growth:
1. Slow growth rates in the first few months
Your team will need time to:
- Plan strategies to attract customers in ways that are different from what your customers are doing
- Create content and other marketing materials that are truly unique and that will set you apart
On top of these, the first few months are probably going to be bumpy and slow, and ROI will not come jingling into the bank immediately.
David shared he and his cofounder had their fair share of doubts about their “unique branding approach” in their first year:
“For the first year and a half, the two of us (David and Elias, his cofounder) would look at each other and be like, ‘What did we do?’”
This illustration comes in handy here again:
So things may get rough during years one and two.
But once you get your first few fans and customers, things usually take off from there — as long as you keep those fans engaged with good content.
What then happens is they’ll start evangelizing your brand to their connections, creating more opportunities for your growth.
And as your number of fans/customers grows, so does your business.
(Of course, this is assuming your product doesn’t disappoint customers.)
Next, you’ll have to deal with the uncertainty of your unique branding idea.
2. Too hard or too messy
“…we look for what other marketers won’t do because it’s messy, hard to measure, and subscale,” says David. “Whereas everyone in marketing wants to look for massive scale and easy to attribute,”
Often, what it takes to be reasonably different is what your competitors may consider too hard or too messy.
It will often require more time, effort, and money.
For Drift, it may have seemed hard and messy to their competitors to write a book on an important topic and physically mail it to their target customers’ home or office addresses.
But it’s what it took to get into the hearts of their customers.
For your company, it can be something different than writing a physical book.
It could be:
- Visiting your customers at their house on a weekend (of course, with discretion and/or permission)
- Creating content on those important topics your competitors shy away from
- Promoting content through effective channels everyone avoids because it’s expensive or for some other reason
- Anything, really, that other brands aren’t doing
With critical thinking, brainstorming, and industry knowledge, you can single out things your competitors aren’t doing; things you can do to get into the hearts of your customers.
It can be hard or messy, but do it regardless, or risk looking like everyone else in the market. I’ve seen PeeP Laja often calling this the problem of sameness.
3. Setting up your content team the right way
Great content is one of the major growth strategies Drift used (and they’re still using it). But your content getting any results is dependent on the people doing your content marketing.
I asked Mark how their content team at Drift works, he shared that they:
- have five in-house people working on content
- hire freelancers to help out
- partner with their customers to create content
Hiring the right people may be one of the major challenges you’ll face when it comes to content. You need folks who understand your customers or are willing to do research deep enough to understand them.
Here are a few places to look when hiring for your content marketing team:
- LinkedIn: put up a post asking your followers to recommend their best content marketers
- Referrals: ask your colleagues and friends in marketing if they know any great content specialists
Bonus point: Capitalize on LinkedIn now
“We publish a lot of content on LinkedIn and a lot of times when people meet us, they’re like I’ve seen like 500 videos from you guys,” David shares.
“It’s because we’ve created lots of content there and it’s way more effective for a B2B audience than FB and other channels.”
And it’s true; from the outside, it seems sharing content is every marketing person’s job at Drift, or so it seems.
If you’re anywhere in B2B, start creating content to share on LinkedIn.
It’s the #1 platform where you find decision-makers in reputable organizations actively engaging with content they find useful:
Your customers are on the platform day in, day out — scrolling their feeds endlessly, looking for great content to view or engage with.
Every content piece you share there is an opportunity for your brand to make an impression and build brand.
In conclusion: Focus on the customer, building your brand one person at a time
“It’s a very small world; you have to treat people the right way,” says David.
He makes a salient point. It’s a very small world we live in.
And your industry? Even smaller.
The interconnection that exists among your prospects and existing customers is wild.
One customer can know ten others who can become your customers.
So you really want to treat each person well.
From how you build your team all the way to how you attend to each customer, make a conscious effort to make their day.
In a nutshell, focus on creating an amazing experience for customers in a unique way.